The power and danger of frameworks

As I meandered round the stalls of a technology conference I recently attended, I was struck by how enthusiastically organisations, consultancies and individuals are so willing to advocate frameworks that present themselves as the panacea for others woes.

I felt something was amiss with this way of thinking, however was willing to both suspend my disbelief and give those, that had clearly gone to some effort to craft their stories and presentations, the time to convince me that I was being unfair.

I sat through the presentations, listening with intent and hoping for the insight that would reflect my thoughts, challenge them or indeed allow me to see the insight that I otherwise lacked.

There are a number of ways that we learn, up there with the best of them is through failure.

In education and across many organisations this is not accounted for. Educators are under pressure to get the information to students as fast as possible, in order to allow them to sit an exam and ‘prove’ the learning.

Business on the other hand is looking to maximize profits and ultimately enable return value to shareholders. Both of these objectives don’t allow for the ability to fail. Any failure is perceived as detrimental to shareholder value.

When a company is starting up, they have the benefit of being able to pivot, change and if they fail fast enough, can move on to become successful. These companies learn from the mistakes they make and embed the knowledge and wisdom generated into the fabric of the business; its culture; its products; its people.

Businesses use frameworks as a shortcut to information and knowledge in a field, whether that is Prince2, ITIL or more recently ‘agile’ frameworks such as LESS and SAFe. Each has its merits but all generate the same behaviour ingrained in us through our education — learn enough to sit the exam and then make it fit where needed within the organisations. This information then forms the basis by which companies structure and arrange themselves. These allow companies to get by. They form the basis for ‘getting by’.

I think credit should be given to those that create the material, and those that learn these frameworks, as many of these expand the worldview that people have. There is a broad recognition that just by sitting the course, you do not necessarily have the skill to execute and implement the knowledge that has been shared.

In making use of frameworks organisations get the benefit of the data and knowledge, and with willing abandon ignore or are ignorant to the wisdom that best practice is a myth. The frameworks, when created are an excellent academic exercise and are created by wise groups, that, in the process of creating them, hope to share their wisdom.

In translating these into organisational crutches, the narrow view created by frameworks into the basis by which organisations operate, they give up their ability to truly innovate and generate customer value.

Frameworks should be the starting point for some, not the aim, outcome or the vanity metric (ooo… we got scored 99% compliant with framework X…) by which you gauge success.

Go, read and understand the frameworks you think are relevant, however try to understand the doctrine that supports them and be willing to test, learn and fail fast with these to ensure that pragmatism and a growth mindset are maintained.

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Alisdair Menzies

Alisdair Menzies

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